How to Wash Those ‘Dry Clean Only’ Clothes at Home

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When you own special or delicate clothing, it’s important to know that you can save a bundle of money if you learn how to wash “Dry clean only” clothes at home.

Not sure how to go about it? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this basic guide to getting started.

How to Wash Dry Clean Only Clothes at Home: A Beginner’s Guide

Dry cleaning is one of those expenses in life that can really add up if you don’t keep it in check. While exact numbers are hard to come by, one recent estimate put the cost of dry cleaning a variety of garments at these price points:

  • Shirt $4
  • Pants $8
  • Suit $15
  • Coat $13-$25
  • Draperies $17
  • Comforter $30-$40
  • Wedding dress $250-$500

So how do you cut down on the expense of dry cleaning?

For starters, you could only buy garments that do not require dry cleaning. That’s the single most economical way to get the job done!

But everybody probably has a least a few articles of clothing already hanging in their closet that say “Dry clean only” on the tag. So the more sensible approach is to learn how to wash dry clean only items at home so you don’t have to pay dry cleaner prices.

Typically, these materials can safely be cleaned at home even if they say they’re dry clean only:

  • Cotton
  • Linen
  • Wool
  • Polyester
  • Nylon
  • Acrylic

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best ways to wash dry clean only clothing at home…

Start by Testing for Colorfastness

You never want to wet-wash any clothing that’s going to bleed in water. That’s why you have to do a preliminary test for colorfastness before you begin. recommends turning the garment inside out and dabbing at the seam with a wet Q-tip. What you’re doing is checking to see that the dye doesn’t come off onto the Q-tip.


If the color does run, stop immediately — your garment isn’t color-safe and should only be professionally dry cleaned.

As a general rule, you’ll probably want to get professional dry cleaning for the following materials:

  • Vintage clothing
  • Suede
  • Real fur
  • Rayon

And while we’re on the topic of dos and don’ts, it’s always good to familiarize yourself with those fabric care symbols you’ll see on clothing tags:

fabric care symbols
American Cleaning Institute

Once you’ve established basic colorfastness, you’re ready to get started washing. There are two basic approaches you can take…

Washing by Hand

how to dry clean at home with clothing being washed in basin

Using cold water, swish clothing gently in cold water in a clean basin or sink with a mild detergent, something like Woolite.

Empty the basin of the suds are refill with cold water for a rinse. Remember to ring or press the clothing until the suds rinse out of the fabric.

Machine Washing

machine wash with mesh laundry bag

Turn your garments inside out and place each one in a separate mesh bag. Run the machine with cold water on a delicate or wool cycle using Woolite or something comparably gently.

Don’t let the clothing sit too long after the cycle ends. Remove it promptly and get ready to lay the clothing flat to dry.


But before you do that, you may want to use a clean towel to blot up excess moisture. A delicate cycle won’t spin the moisture out of your garments, so this will likely be necessary before laying flat to dry.

A Tall Tale About Clark’s Refusal to Pay for Dry Cleaning

Retired radio host Neal Boortz writes in his 2013 memoir Maybe I Should Just Shut Up and Go Away! about how money expert Clark Howard avoids the high price of dry cleaning.

The story goes that Clark simply drops his shirts off at a Goodwill. They supposedly dry clean the shirts before putting them out on the floor for sale. Then, Clark goes back the next morning and buys the shirts back at a lower price than it would have cost him to have them professionally dry cleaned!

While this story is hilarious and Boortz is fond of retelling it, Clark says it isn’t true. Additionally, Goodwill encourages donors to dry clean all clothing before donation. They do not wash anything before putting it out for sale.

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